This palace by the sea has the ultimate wish-you-were-here location: overlooking a buckets-and-spades beach and sat between Brighton’s two piers.
Opening in 1864, The Grand combined Italianate-style with aspirational Victorian architecture. Since Regency times, Brighton had been a royal favourite, and the hotel’s design was suitably palatial. Boasting the first water-powered lifts outside London, located on the exterior and called vertical omnibuses, The Grand was cutting edge.
Over the years The Grand has frequently made history. It witnessed the birth of an Indian royal prince in the 1930s when a Maharajah’s entourage occupied the entire first floor. Then The Grand hosted Abba after they had won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo.
In 1979, the hotel had a role in Quadrophenia, the film recalling the mods and rockers‘ conflicts of the Sixties and Sting played a bellboy at The Grand. Moving to the small screen, Del Boy, Rodney et al stayed in Room 220 for the 1992 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special.
Doormen in bold-chequered trousers, from local designer Gresham Blake, instantly set the bar for service. They whisk away luggage and take care of valet parking. Note that parking is on a first come, first served basis.
After a friendly check-in we head to our room where a box of chocolates and a welcome card await.
Room 218, a junior suite named Pavilion, has a chaise longue strategically positioned to take in sea views towards the skeletal ruins of the West Pier.
White clapperboard and a neutral palette give a New England coastal ambience to the decor. French windows, leading on to a balcony, are the central focus of a floor-to-ceiling bay window.
Accents of blush pink feature in the soft furnishings and frame avant-garde pencil drawings. They are part of the light decor which has something of a relaxed 1920s aura with occasional Art Deco flashes.
As temperatures frequently soar along Sussex’s sun-drenched Costa del Sol, rooms have both air-conditioning and airplane-propellor-style ceiling fans.
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Cleansing slides into the bedroom too. Climb the podium steps into a deeply luxuriant bath cocooned behind the bed. Even the bath towels seem fluffier and larger than usual.
A bright, white bathroom has his and her wash units. His and her heated towel rails. Even his and her shaving points. All leading into a powerful rain shower with Nobel Isle toiletries to hand.
No surprise that the Cyan Restaurant, flowing around a spectacular circular bar, is dominated by bold blue-green decor echoing the colours of the sea view.
Nor is there any surprise that seasonal dishes, often fresh from the ocean, appear on the menu. All day-dining encourages guests to combine cocktails, mocktails and small plates to taste.
Hosting breakfast, the indigo walled Albert Suite has the vast high-ceilinged dimensions and sparkling chandeliers of a Regency ballroom. Inspired hotel design brings regal opulence to the Great British Breakfast.
The next wave of refurbishment will bring a gym and spa to the Grand’s facilities too.
“What Pompeii was to the Romans, Brighton is to Londoners,’ wrote a 19th century journalist as pleasure seekers crammed onto the seaside specials puffing out of Victoria. And the Grand was constructed in pole position to enjoy and explore Britain’s premier water hole.
The Lanes, winding cobbled alleys that were once fishermen’s homes, now host independent shops that often express Brighton’s quirky character. Remember that this is a town that hosts an annual naked bike ride.
The artists’ quarter, Brighton i360, Marina, museums, Royal Pavilion and Sea Life are all nearby. Give the car a rest and take an eco-friendly walk. After all this is the UK’s only constituency held by the Green Party.
If the you need a break from your quintessential Great British seaside holiday then Brighton has the Sussex Downs as a spectacular rural backdrop.
Other nice touches
The friendly concierge team are on hand with their intimate knowledge of Brighton. Guiding guests around the town’s attractions and booking restaurant tables.
Public areas have been lovingly preserved to capture the elegance of the original Victorian decor. Yet, rooms are packed with contemporary conveniences: air-con, coffee-maker, flat-screen television and fridge.
Starting price for a double room is £160. A Terrace Tea costs £15 while the spectacular Grand Afternoon Tea comes in at £38.
The best bit
Afternoon tea is almost a spiritual celebration when served on the Grand’s Victoria Terrace. Even Queen Victoria would have been impressed by a light conservatory, overlooking the beach and promenade, decorated with lush tropical foliage. Choose from the Grand Afternoon Tea, Vegan Tea or Gluten-free Tea. For more restrained appetites the Terrace Tea is a lighter option of scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam.
This is the ultimate Great British Bake Off final with goats cheese and caramelised onion tarts battling against cherry and coconut scones for star billing. Or should the choux craquelin filled with chocolate cream, caramel and pecan take the ultimate plaudits?
For tea connoisseurs there is a range of teas. Or the T can come from Gin and Tonic. Then again there are cocktails, mocktails or champagne. As a serial winner in Brighton’s Best Afternoon Tea Awards the Victoria Terrace attracts both locals and travellers from afar.
The final verdict
Brighton’s grandest hotel more than lives up to its name with 201 rooms stretching out over seven floors. The Grand is still enhancing its reputation for impeccable service as it sails through its second century. Perfectly positioned as a sanctuary for sophisticated sanity in a town whose marketing slogan is “Brighton – never normal.”
Supremely successfully, The Grand combines nostalgia for a Victorian life we never lived with the indulgence of contemporary comforts.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by The Grand, Brighton.
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